Ever noticed that the material polo t-shirts are made from is different from a regular shirt? Here’s why
A brief History of the Polo Shirt
In this age of skimpy sportswear, it may be hard to believe that people used to have to work out in the same clothes they wore to church and work during the day. At the start of the 20th century, Men had to play sports in trousers and a buttoned shirt, however women had the job of attempting it in long skirts and restrictive blouses.
During this time, tennis players were made to wear “tennis whites” which consisted of long sleeved button up shirts (worn with the sleeves rolled up), paired with flannel trousers and even a tie. You can imagine this attire made it difficult to play comfortably. A seven-time grand slam French tennis champion by the name of Rene Lacoste became tired of the stiff outfit and designed a white, short sleeved loose knit pique cotton shirt with a flat collar and a shirt tail. He first wore his invention at the 1926 US Open championship. In 1927 Lacoste branded his shirt with a crocodile emblem, taken from his nickname “The Crocodile”, given by the American press for his large nose.
Sounding familiar yet? In 1933 he retired from tennis and teamed up with Andre Gillier to form Chemise Lacoste, the iconic American clothing brand we all know and love.
“Tennis” or “Polo”?
In 1920, Lewis Lacey, haberdasher and polo player noticed Lacoste’s shirt and began producing a similar garment, embroidered with a polo player. The term “polo shirt” fast became a world recognised moniker for the tennis shirt. Even tennis players would refer to their shirts as a “polo shirt” despite the garment style originating from their own sport.
In 1972, Ralph Lauren added his own version of the Polo shirt to his “Polo line” – leisurewear for the elite who wished to be comfortable whilst exercising, without losing status. Lauren opted to call his line Polo because he believed it was the most elegant of sports, with a long history of favouritism with the aristocrats.
In the battle between “Polo shirt” and “Tennis Shirt”, “Polo” ultimate won over.
What Are They Made of?
Polo Shirts are typically made from knitted materials, either jersey or piqué. Although traditionally the most popular, these days you can find Polos made from almost any fabric.
Often used in T shirts, Jersey garments were made famous by Coco Chanel for her innovative use of the fabric in introducing it to high fashion. Shirts made from this material have a very soft texture and are good for physical activity.
“The Polo fabric”- thanks to Lacoste, piqué is the obvious choice for a polo shirt as it’s flexible and breathes well. If you look at the fabric up close it looks like a honeycomb type pattern, formed by its signature geometric style knit. Double piqué is also sometimes used to make the garment stronger or cut down on costs by combining a slightly lower quality material with a higher one.
Jersey or Piqué?
There’s no right or wrong. Some people say that Polo shirts look more expensive when made from piqué because the fabric strength makes the collar more upright, whereas others prefer the comfort of the Jersey Polo. Of course, Jersey Polos can look great, just take James Dean for example.
If you can’t tell the difference then you should be able to figure out which is which, simply by touching the materials.
Jersey is soft and smooth like a t shirt, and typically cheaper than piqué. Whereas piqué has a distinctive honeycomb look and textured feel, it’s also heavier and breathes better. If you’re ordering over the internet and don’t have the opportunity to touch the fabric, then take a look at the description section of the product info, or phone up the company and ask.
Image By Ingfbruno – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27863156